The National Football League is not just the most popular sport in America, but the most successful, most watched television series in the country. Every weekend in the fall the NFL rules the television world, garnering huge ratings numbers no one else in the industry can reach. The Super Bowl is now watched by over 100 million viewers while Sunday Night Football is the most watched primetime series in America, besting the likes of American Idol and others. While the NFL is at the top of the television mountain for the moment, what will it look like in the next generation? How will football coverage change? Who will be the major TV personalities that enter our homes every week? Will the NFL expand into non-traditional avenues to bring fans live games?
These are just a few of the questions we asked our expert panel as part of Bloguin’s Football in 2030 series. Already Crystal Ball Run has examined college football in 2030 and This Given Sunday has taken a close look at the state of pro football in 2030. To finish the series, it’s our turn to envision what football coverage will hold in the future.
AA spoke to a diverse panel of media writers, on-air personalities, journalists, and former players to predict how the NFL will change in the media landscape of 2030. Here's Part I of our discussion and Part V of the overall series. Make sure to check out all the links to the previous chapters at Crystal Ball Run and This Given Sunday below our roundtable.
Chris Burke – NFL writer, Sports Illustrated
Richard Deitsch – Media writer, Sports Illustrated and The MMQB
Mike Freeman – Lead NFL writer, Bleacher Report
Brad Gagnon – Managing Editor, This Given Sunday; lead NFC East blogger, Bleacher Report; AA staff member
Ben Koo – GM, Awful Announcing
Andrea Kremer – Reporter, NFL Network
Curt Menefee – Host, Fox NFL Sunday
Trey Wingo – Host, ESPN NFL Live
Damien Woody – ESPN NFL analyst, NFL Pro Bowler
Matt Yoder – Managing Edtior, Awful Announcing
1) How much will the TV deals be worth in 2030? The deals that are scheduled to expire in 2021 are worth nearly $5 billion.
Deitsch: The only accurate prediction is that they will increase, and likely significantly. But there are so many variables regarding distribution and what new players will enter the marketplace that any guess is just that — a guess. I'll take $9.9 billion simply because it's such a fun and insane number to write.
Freeman: I'm in the minority probably on this. No way they'll be worth more. They'll be worth less. Not a lot less, but less. I think by the time these current deals are over, we will be in the middle of a noticeable dip in the popularity of the sport. It can't have so much horrible news about head injuries and brain trauma and not have an effect. Not even the powerful NFL can sustain this level of negative press for so long and not see a loss of revenue.
Gagnon: They're worth $6 billion tops, and that's just because the game has kept growing and more games are broadcast in prime time. Why won't they keep exploding? Because non-traditional media will take over.
Wingo: That all depends on the popularity of the sport. If it stays at or near its current levels, the deals will go up exponentially. Keep in mind in the fall of 2012, the highest rated tv show in primetime was Sunday Night Football. Not the highest rated sports show… the HIGHEST RATED SHOW IN PRIMETIME. If the appetite remains the same that number could easily double. It’s the surest bet on television right now in terms of ratings
Woody: Billions. The NFL is so strong. By that time, the league will likely go international and they will be able to tap into new markets.
Yoder: Considering we've seen some leagues double their intake from TV rights deals, the entirety of the NFL contract could approach $10 Billion, and that's a conservative estimate if the league doesn't create new TV packages and see expansion by 2030.
2) Have traditional networks been replaced by Google, Netflix, or other online/mobile platforms?
Deitsch: I don't think traditional networks will be replaced, though I do believe that a non-tradtional platform such as Google, Netflix or some yet-to-be-named online/mobile platform will have a set of games. In 2030, ESPN will still have a contract. So will CBS and NBC and Fox.
Freeman: Google, Turner (homer alert) and the Facebook Channel. Tons of people will be watching regular season games on their phones but I still think the NFL will be mostly watched, even in 2030, on traditional television sets. Football is still a big party. People get together at homes and bars. It's a social experience. That will still be the case. People get together, hang out, eat food, watch football on big screen TV.
Gagnon: Google, Yahoo! and other major online players air live NFL games. Networks are still involved, but they're airing games online on their websites. Verizon or one of its competitors has full mobile rights to all games. You can watch any game from anywhere, any time, on any device. NBC has been ahead of the game here, and ESPN knows the score. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if FOX and/or CBS bowed out by this point. I expect some major joint agreements between networks, online juggernauts and mobile companies.
Koo: Google became an augmenting partner for the NFL in 2021 to help distribute games ala carte via the web and on television. After a full decade of Google Plus being relegated to Friendster status, acquiring one off NFL rights to out of market games utilizing the Google Plus platform was deemed a smart investment to keep the fledgling social network relevant.
Kremer: I would say the NFL broadcasts all games and they stream to a variety of networks. It’s purely pay as you go; you can access any and all games you want, as long as you have the bitcoins. Apple, Google, Netflix and other assorted other mobile platforms. Maybe Facebook has its own by then…
Wingo: Not entirely. For all the advancements in technology and how we view sports, is there any better way to watch a game than on the biggest HD screen available? The NFL will continue to look for ways to increase revenue streams.. they’re very good at that. Streaming rights could be a huge money maker for them. But networks like ESPN know how much money the NFL can bring them. Expect all networks to hold on to rights like grim death.
Yoder: The league's current partners (ESPN, NBC, CBS, Fox) will all still have TV rights in 2030. Either Fox will spend big for half of the Thursday night package for their fledgling 24/7 cable network. The biggest change will be Google offering individual games to fans for online/mobile consumption. Football needs television, but in the NFL's neverending quest for more money, their footprint in the online and mobile world will grow exponentially larger.
3) Will we be watching the NFL in 3-D?
Burke: If you want to, sure. I doubt it will be an in-every-home type of situation, especially considering how slow the developments in getting sports to 3-D have been recently. I do believe we'll start to see more 3-D offerings for things like the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl and maybe even Thanksgiving Day games, following in the footsteps of events like the Final Four being shown in limited 3-D release.
Freeman: 3-D? Fuck no. We'll have something better than 3-D in 16 years. It'll be something like 5-D. You'll be able to see the details of Coach Jerry Jones' plastic surgery it will be so good.
Gagnon: We have a choice to watch either. It's not like HD, which just took over, because it's too niche. Iv'e heard some NFL media types suggest that it'll never take off, but once they master the technology there's little reason to believe it won't start to happen. Remember, ESPN's new contract with the league grants it 3-D distribution rights.
Koo: No. Google Glass, 3D glasses, and glasses in general continue to not be embraced by the mainstream despite the efforts of early adopters and hipsters.
Kremer: Not just that but another option will be a 4D immersive experience so you can feel the hits in your living room.
Menefee: We've been talking about 3-D since horror movies in the 1950s. Notice how many companies have dropped out of the 3-D business within the last year or two? I don't think that 3-D will even be available in 2030.
Wingo: Only if they perfect the technology where you don’t need to wear the glasses. Otherwise, it’s just too cumbersome, especially in a group watch/party format.
Woody: Yes. The technology we are using on NFL games with hi-def cameras and other things, it’s only a matter of time. Fans are always clamoring for the next thing and 3-D will provide a whole new way of experiencing pro football.
4) Which announcers have broadcasted a Super Bowl in the last 5 years in 2030?
Deitsch: Joe Buck, Ian Eagle and Cleatus The Robot.
Freeman: These are names that will be part of various broadcast teams. Not in any semblance of order: Jay Glazer, Cari Champion, Andrea Kremer, Dan Patrick, Jim Rome, Michael Strahan, Rachel Nichols, Sam Ryan, Rich Eisen, Trey Wingo, Tom Brady, Stephen A. Smith, Tim Tebow, Lisa Salters.
Gagnon: Joe Buck has called two, while Mike Tirico, Jim Nantz and Kevin Burkhardt have called the other three. Nantz just called his last game before retiring at the age of 70. Buck is only 61 (eight years younger than Al Michaels is now) and still going hard. Tirico has moved to a network like NBC, where the money is better. Burkhardt replaces him. If CBS still has rights, Ian Eagle does the next Super Bowl for them.
Kremer: Cris Collinsworth, Peyton Manning, Rex Ryan
Wingo: Impossible to say, considering how fluid the broadcasting game is right now
Yoder: By 2030, ESPN will have a Super Bowl, so the big game will rotate between all four league partners. Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Richard Sherman (Fox), Kevin Burkhardt and Drew Brees (NBC), Ian Eagle and Peyton Manning (CBS) and Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden (ESPN). That's right – prepare for another 16 years of "this guy."
5) What's the biggest difference in NFL pregame coverage compared to 20 years ago?
Burke: It's more interactive. And by that I mean, I envision the consistent explosion of fantasy football's popularity leading to networks somehow offering ways for viewers to tailor news and notes to specific players. And as a result, the pregame shows ought to become less muddled as a whole.
Deitsch: The increased emphasis on gambling segments and a plethora of online pregame shows with high-quality streaming that looks like today's television.
Freeman: It's shorter. Lot less bullshit. Lot less fluff. More insider type stuff.
Gagnon: It's all online. The content itself might never change, although I'd expect more of an emphasis on fantasy, advanced stats and maybe even gambling.
Koo: They're still crappy for the most part but at this point we're able to talk about spreads out in the open.
Kremer: Pregame is a misnomer since the shows start 24 hours before the game, not a mere few hours.
Wingo: Against the wishes of people like Bill Belichick, it will be a much more behind curtains approach. Expect to see cameras everywhere, in locker rooms, more on the field getting ready type stuff. As the appetite grows, people will want to see more and more just how the sausage is made.
Yoder: Fantasy football shows rule the day on television as it continues to drive football's popularity. Insiders will become more important than ex-players to report on injuries and start/sit decisions. Online, you'll be able to pick your own pregame show for whichever game you're most interested in.
6) How impactful has concussion reporting been in the evolution of pro football?
Deitsch: Significantly impactful to the point where a number of NFL rules have changed and the numbers in youth football have dropped dramatically.
Freeman: Huge. It's made the NFL more accountable. Not in terms of the past so much as the future. No one has an excuse any longer when it comes to head injuries. Everyone knows the risk now especially players and the NFL. The reporting has sped up safety measures. Without it, the new rules to protect players would have never happened or happened much more slowly.
Gagnon: At this point, CTE in former players is no longer disputable. Ann McKee wins.
Koo: Concussions have changed football at every level. Children are no longer allowed to play tackle football until age 12 and the games are mandated to be shorter with the amount of contact practices mandated as well at the youth level. Players now are fitted for an interior helmet that goes inside of the traditional football helmet. PET scans are now required for all college and pro players who have suffered concussions in season.
Kremer: Pun intended? Players now wear giant foam rubber great gazoo helmets with no facemasks. There will be more eye injuries from gouging but the helmet is less weaponized.
Menefee: Impact from the standpoint that any touch of the helmet will result in a penalty flag, therefore, the game will be different than what we see today.
Wingo: That will be determined over time. It’s certainly become part of any discussion about the game now, and it’s effecting how the game is called. As more information becomes available, especially with the early detection test for CTE that is now being used, I’d be shocked if we didn’t soon have much more high-tech equipment with sensors to detect abnormal brain patterns in games. That could lead to many more players being on the roster as the heightened awareness grows. Plus, the idea of an early detection test leads to the possibility of being able to find treatment, which is a huge bonus.
Woody: It will lead to an overhaul in the equipment. The framework of the game is going to be the same but the equipment – with sensors in pads and helmets so people can detect the level of impact — will allow even more focus on preventative measures to avoid long-standing injuries. Also, the NFL will be legislated to keep the game more wide open with less impact. Quarterbacks will be protected even more. The league is so popular because of the QBs and you have to protect them.
Yoder: It's been massive. As more concussion reporting is being done, participation at youth levels will be in an established downward trend in 2030, causing significant rule changes at youth levels with "hit counts" akin to pitch counts in baseball. Technology has improved to make the NFL game safer and the league hasn't seen the effects of decreased participation yet, but by 2050 football's place at the top of American sports may be in jeopardy.
7) How has the job of NFL beat writer changed in this generation?
Deitsch: The NFL beat writer has evolved into a mega-mobile-journalist: a one-person video, tweeting, writing, something-yet-to-be-invented machine who is fueled by new drugs to keep he or she up 20 hours a day.
Freeman: Less locker room access, down to five minutes. Each player has own individual PR person at locker during practice and game access. Players do Twitter Q&A with fans before meeting with media. No practice access. Ever. Far more homers in media. Fewer journalists. Fans become beat writers via Twitter and Facebook. Players meet with media dying week only once. All coaches off limits until game day.
Gagnon: Beat writers will never go away. We need primary sources and a direct connection for quotes and key information. But it's not worth it for most outlets to employ them. There are more aggregators and bloggers and fewer beat writers.
Kremer: He or she is practically embedded with the team. The job may be beat reporter but they more feel beat up and held hostage.
Menefee: I believe that each team will have a single beat writer that will have locker room access, etc. Local TV sports coverage and newspaper coverage will be virtually non existent, and if any entity has that type of coverage it will be forced to cover press conferences like the rest of the national media. The combination of teams "controlling the message" and the downward trend of newspaper readership that we are seeing now will be the perfect storm for those newspapers to scrap having one guy dedicated to covering one team year round.
Wingo: It’s a year-round gig. The announcement of the Super Bowl city used to be buried somewhere on the bottom of the last page of what was once called the “sports section” of a newspaper. Now it’s a tv special. Reporters are live tweeting OTA’s and 7-7 drills in the offseason. Which leads to the biggest change: There IS NO OFFSEASON any more. The year is divided into four parts: regular season, postseason, the player procurement season (Draft, combine, free agency) and preseason (mini camps, OTAs, training camp, games). Honestly, there’s about a 10-day window in late June/early July where nothing is going on, that’s it. And that is by design. The NFL is intent on dominating as much of the sports year as possible.
Woody: Fans want access – they clamor for it. The NFL will slowly strip away that secrecy and everything will be open. Also, NFL teams will control more of the access by hiring their own in-house media, providing everything to fans.
Coming up tomorrow, Part II of our AA Roundtable closes out Bloguin's Football in 2030 series discussing innovations in game coverage, Hard Knocks, and changes in the current football packages.
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART I: THE STATE OF THE NCAA (CRYSTAL BALL RUN)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART II: CONFERENCE REALIGNMENT AND OTHER CHANGES IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL (CRYSTAL BALL RUN)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART III: THE STATE OF THE NFL (THIS GIVEN SUNDAY)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART IV: HOW THE NFL GAME HAS CHANGED (THIS GIVEN SUNDAY)